Here's something to dream about after the screen says 'game over'. Hannah Hamilton describes Abertay's unique computer games technology BSc and looks at what careers may lie ahead


The computer games technology degree at the University of Abertay Dundee is the first of its kind in Europe. It is now in its fourth year and is becoming increasingly popular with students. The BSc degree isn't about teaching you the cheats and shortcuts through Quake 3 or Gran Turismo ­ instead, it gives students an insight into how these games are created and provides them with the skills to design and build similar games themselves.

This is not a course for games fanatics, although most students do enjoy playing games in their spare time! Students of computer games technology need to have a love of games, but they also need the ambition to go beyond just playing, to work hard in order to create games of their own.

Students on the course are taught every step involved in the creation of computer games, from the original concept to the processes behind marketing and launching it to a worldwide audience. Key elements

At Abertay University, specific modules available on the course include:

  • Computer-based artistic expression
  • Programming in a range of commercial "languages"
  • Designing game levels
  • Software engineering for computer games production
  • Mathematics

As well as the more familiar PC and PlayStation games, students are given an insight into the fast-growing internet and mobile phone markets, a crucial aspect of a course in such a fast-changing subject.

Entry requirements

Anyone considering a degree in computer games technology will need more than a solid history of playing computer games! A strong background in maths is essential for programming, and physics may also be useful. In addition, good communication skills are important as teamwork often plays a large part in computer games programming.

The four-year degree at Abertay requires entry grades of AABB at Higher level or BBC at A level. These are the highest entry grades for any course at the university.

Although the course is very technical, each key aspect is taught from a basic level and prior design experience is not essential, although students must have an understanding of games and how they are structured.

The course is taught through a series of lectures and seminars, backed upand underpinned by a wide range of practical work. Most of the coursework is targeted directly at writing programmes, although students in later years will also learn about the business side of the computer games market, including securing financial backing to help with the development of games.

Specialist equipment is not necessary to join the course, although it can be useful to have a PC of your own. For those who don't, there are more than 1,200 computers available on the university campus for student use.

Career options

Gaining a degree in computer games technology doesn't limit you to a career as a games developer. A worldwide shortage of high-quality computer programmers makes it easy for graduates to find work in many related industries, such as virtual reality and computer simulation. Such fields can include everything from defence to medicine, where techniques can help with groundbreaking treatments for patients. In addition, a series of modules in marketing opens a whole new range of opportunities for graduates, with career choices including computer games publishing and public relations.

As the course has just entered its fourth year, there are as yet no honours graduates. However, approximately half of third-year students have so far left the course with an ordinary degree, after setting up games companies of their own or being offered permanent positions on the basis of summer placements organised through the university.

Louis Natanson, division leader of computer arts at Arbertay, explains that "with the option to return at any time and complete their honours degree, many students are choosing to enter the work arena. The course offers practical tuition to a level that makes it simple for students to transfer to jobs in the industry. If they decide to complete their degree later on, we make it as easy as possible for them to do so."

Several leading games developers remain closely involved with the degree course. Among them are DMA Design, the creators of Grand Theft Auto and Silicon Valley; Visual Sciences, the creators of Formula 1 '98; and VIS, the developers of Earthworm Jim 3D. By working closely with the university, these companies help to make sure the course stays relevant to this rapidly changing industry and offer students the best possible start to their career in the games industry.

For further information

For details of the computer games technology degree, contact Dr Colin Fraser at the University of Abertay on 01382 308600 or via email at: computing@abertay.ac.uk

The University of Abertay Dundee website can be found at www.abertay.ac.uk

Comments